Niesenbaum takes third in D-11
A year and a half ago Jonah Niesenbaum had never been part of a wrestling team at any level. But after taking up the sport as a high school sophomore, Niesenbaum advanced through last weekend’s district tournament with a third-place finish and is only a few wins away from a trip to the state championships.
“We’ve been training really hard,” said the Salisbury High School junior. “It’s partly expected. I knew in my head that I was going to regionals. I put in that work, whatever it took to get there.”
Niesenbaum was the No. 8 seed in the Class 2A 220-pound bracket. He pinned No. 9 Nathan Reedy of Schuylkill Haven in his opening match then fell to top seed Bronson Strouse of Tamaqua in the second round by a 9-2 decision. The loss dropped Niesenbaum into the consolation bracket, but he won his next four bouts for second place.
Niesenbaum beat Mahanoy Area’s Tommy Price 7-2 in his first consolation match. He pinned Lehighton’s Brett Gasker in 4:38 in another consolation match before taking out No. 3 seed Austen Ney (Pine Grove) in the consolation semifinals, 4-2 to clinch his berth into this weekend’s Southeast Regional Tournament at Wilson West Lawn.
“I didn’t wrestle that well in that match,” Niesenbaum. “I was kind of sloppy. I was kind of disappointed in the way I wrestled, then I looked at my coaches and asked if that’s regionals. They said yes and then we were really excited.”
He beat Northwestern’s Quin Moyer, the No. 4 seed, 7-3 in the third-place match to finish off just the second district tournament of his career.
His finish is more impressive considering he just began his wrestling career last season. After playing ice hockey for most of his youth, Niesenbaum wanted to participate in a high school sport. He tried track in ninth grade, but said that “was a disaster.”
“My cousins are big wrestlers in Indiana,” he said. “They would tell me all the time to wrestle. We got a new wrestling coach and I decided to give it a shot. Shane Simononis was a senior when I started. He was great helping me get into it.
“I just had so much fun. It’s cheaper than hockey, so that’s awesome. And the coaching staff and the community is so generous and so many great coaches are so willing to give their time. I think time is the most valuable thing anyone can give because you can’t get that back. So many coaches have given their time to me and worked with me, that was an opportunity I saw in wrestling. I took it. I stopped hockey and I went all in for wrestling.”
Because Salisbury only had two varsity wrestlers this season, Niesenbaum worked out in wrestling rooms across the Lehigh Valley and beyond and paired up with some of the best grapplers he could find.
While it might seem like being on a two-man team could be a detriment, especially when his only teammate is several weight classes lighter, Niesenbaum found it to be more of a benefit.
“It’s actually opened up a lot of opportunities because I get to work with a variety of different people,” he said. “I practice with other teams and with other guys. It’s been really cool. I’ve been meeting a lot of new people.”
Niesenbaum went to the area’s top clubs for workouts. He also went to high schools as far as Malvern Prep to train get in some mat time with other grapplers. All the practice has helped him not only get in shape and develop new moves, but he’s also learned how to use his 6-foot-3 frame to his advantage.
“I have super long arms,” he said. “I can grab ankle picks. When I go into underhooks I can jack people up. I can keep people at distance and I have great reach. I think it’s intimidating too.”
While he’s excited about what he accomplished this weekend and throughout his blossoming wrestling career, Niesenbaum also realizes this is just the beginning. He wants to do his best this year while use it as a learning experience for what he hopes will be the peak of his high school career next season.
“I would love to place in regionals,” he said. “I want to go to states. That would be incredible. I want to get as far as I can this year and I take it seriously. But this year everything is practice. Senior year, that’s when I’m going to use everything that I’ve learned and go all out. I’m going all out this year but it’s all a learning experience.”